June 2016 – Smoker or Non-Smoker: a Question of Education?

For about three and a half years Australian smokers get their cigarettes in “neutral” boxes only.

Australia_2011_Plain_Pack_Example_3A few days ago the “Department of Health” first time came up with official figures on the success or failure of the Plain Packaging Act. Almost at the same time a scientific study of the “Australian National University” (ANU) was published. Ministry of Health and University come to somewhat different results.

In the evaluation, which was commissioned by the Department, it becomes clear that the full effect of tobacco plain packaging is expected to be realised over time. In addition, the dissuasive cigarette packages would only be truly effective if it also comes to further price increases.

The number of smokers so far probably not really declined significantly. That is what the Ministry confirms. According to their figures the number of smokers between December 2012 (introduction of “Plain Packaging”) and September 2015 declined by only 0.55 percentage points. And whether this drop is in fact due to the deterrent packaging or simply because retail prices went up, remains unclear.

The investigation results of the ANU are slightly different and certainly more detailed. Professor Simone Dennis spent more than a decade studying the changing experience of smokers, and the effects of plain packaging, graphic warnings and increased tobacco prices.

The recently published results of the research are amazing and somehow terrifying. Her research found not only that many smokers were not only smoking despite health warnings, but that some would seek out cigarettes because of them. Ms Dennis said she encountered young pregnant women who were encouraged, not deterred, by some of the warnings.

“They were absolutely terrified of giving birth to a large baby, that was their primary fear,” Ms Dennis said. “So they would seek out packets that had the message smoking could make a baby smaller, and deliberately smoke in order to accomplish that aim.”

Ms Dennis said many smokers would exchange packets or move their cigarettes into other non-labelled containers to avoid having to see certain health warnings.

“I met lots of people who had blue eyes who would insist they return their packet [with a blue eye held open on the front] and get a different packet,” she said.

“Blokes … were very comfortable with ones relating to pregnancy so they felt that didn’t effect them. There were lots of strategies.”

It is hard to say that the study of the health ministry reported considerable success of “Plain Packaging”. A decline in the sale of tobacco by 0.55 percentage points in three years is truly no success message. The research of the ANU is even less optimistic. What these two institutions have in common is the finding that long-term consumption of tobacco will primarily regulated on price. Every time a price increase comes up, the number of smokers goes down.

Concerning the prices here in Australia is still some “room for improvement”. However, there is a risk that at rising cost of tobacco in certain social classes more money might be spent on cigarettes than on education or healthy food.

The average price for a single cigarette:
> Norway A $ 1, –
> Australia A $ 0.60
> Germany A $ 0.40
> Moldavia A $ 0.06